Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that legendary town where perhaps the most infamous battle of the Civil War took place in 1863, is famous for many things. The battlefield is, of course, the best reason to visit, but any Gettysburg traveler will discover that a great many historic homes and churches abound throughout the town. Many existed in some form or another when the battle took place, and so have existed for at least 150 years. If you’re planning to walk the streets or even visit some of these old homes, you will need to know where to look.
Quite a few of Gettysburg’s historic buildings can be visited and offer insightful tours, sometimes with costumed guides. Many are restored to look the way they did in 1863. One such house is the George Washington Schriver House, built in 1860, three years before Gettysburg was embroiled in battle. Built by Mr. Schriver, the house had an upstairs and downstairs used by the family and a basement where Mr. Schriver’s saloon operated. You will be amazed at the authenticity with which the house has been restored; stop by and see perfectly reconstructed Victorian bedrooms, an attic where Confederate sharpshooters made their nests, and a kitchen and parlor.
At Schriver House you can embark on a tour that will take half an hour to complete. The rates are extremely reasonable, charging $4.50 for kids under the age of twelve and $6.95 for adults. The senior rate falls between the two. At the end of your tour you might decide to stop by the newly expanded gift shop for anything relating to the Schriver House or Gettysburg itself.
The Jennie Wade House is one of the most famous historic homes in the borough, and with good reason. It was here in July 1863 that a 20-year-old named Mary Virginia Wade (known as Jennie) was providing baked goods for starving soldiers and was shot by an unnamed sharpshooter. No one is certain from where the bullet came or even if a Union or Confederate soldier was responsible. The home, actually a double house occupied by Jennie’s sister Georgia and Georgia’s husband Louis, became known as the Jennie Wade House.
You can take a tour of the Jennie Wade House’s upper and lower levels, passing through both the McClain and McClellan sides. On the McClellan side you will notice the kitchen where Jennie was killed. The entire house is beautifully decorated to really give you a glimpse into 19th century pure and simple style. Once you climb the appropriately creaky stairs, you can step through the hole made between house sections when a shell rocketed into the house and terrified the occupants. Once you venture outside you have the option of visiting the cellar where Jennie was brought after her death.
General Lee’s Headquarters is another well-known Gettysburg home. Occupied by the widow Mary Thompson, the 19th century stone home served as Lee’s center of operations during the three-day battle. Now a museum with small but entertaining rooms, there are also modern dormer rooms upstairs, where you can actually stay overnight if you are willing to pay the price. Who is to say you won’t catch a glimpse of the “general” himself?
Stop by the small gift shop after exploring the house; it is also in this building that you will purchase your tickets for the headquarters tour. Keep in mind that the museum is open from 9-5 but that hours may change slightly during the warmer months. Children can tour the museum for free if they are younger than 15, and adults pay $3.00 for admission. The last time I stayed at the adjoining Larson’s Quality Inn, guests at Larson’s were able to enter General Lee’s Headquarters Museum free of charge.
Unfortunately, some historical homes are now bed and breakfasts and can only be visited if you are planning to stay overnight. I would definitely recommend that you consider a few of these for your accommodations, especially the Farnsworth House Inn, known during the battle as the Sweeney House. Built in two sections, each part in the 19th century, this old brick house is full of local lore. Ghost stories and tales of haunted happenings abound, and each room is painstakingly restored to look as it did many years ago.
If you’re feeling brave, you can trek down to the cellar for the Farnsworth House’s “Mourning Theater.” This is a creepy place where guides tell stories from the past. If you don’t think you’d like to recreate a Victorian funeral parlor, this is *not* the place for you, though it does appeal to many “ghost hunters” who come to visit.
By Lacie R. Schaeffer